It may not be clear who is running Somalia these days but energy companies appear to know who to call as they conduct onshore and offshore seismic surveys which could make the Horn of Africa an oil giant within six years.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron are all activating plans to drill in Somalia, according to area news reports. London-based Soma Oil and Gas, backed by Russian billionaire Alexander Djaparidze, is encouraged by the results of exploration. Details could be published as soon as the year’s end.
“The government has recognized they need to stimulate exploration. They need to stimulate the creation of a hydrocarbon regime because they are in a prospective area,” said Bob Sheppard, chief executive of Soma Oil and Gas.
The initiative, however, appears to defy a continent-wide environmental movement to “keep the oil in the soil” in order to reduce carbon emissions and control global warming. Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey came up with the phrase which reads in its entirety: “Leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tar sands in the land.”
In addition to environmental opposition, security remains an obstacle for foreign investors. Somalia says with the help of troops from the African Union, it is making progress against the Islamist insurgents al-Shabab.
Still, attacks continue in the region, with ones in the capital, Mogadishu, the south-central town of Baidoa and north-eastern Kenya, near the Somali border, in the last week alone.
Last week’s terrorist attacks in Baidoa left numerous casualties including several local politicians and journalists and alarmed the top United Nations official in Somalia, Nicholas Kay, who called for political unity following the ouster of the Prime Minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.
“The use of such indiscriminate tactics against the Somali people demonstrates a shocking disregard for the most basic principles of humanity,” Kay said. “Those responsible need to be brought to justice swiftly.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Somalia as one of the top 10 countries where crimes against journalists go unpunished. In addition, media workers risk not just death on a daily basis but also arbitrary arrests.
Also shadowing the potential oil rush is a territorial dispute with Kenya over the offshore border between the two nations. Kenya has also issued exploration licenses to drill in the region as have the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.
Somalia has filed a formal claim for a bigger chunk of the continental shelf and urged the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to ignore applications made by Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen.